Being still

“Lent is the time for trimming the soul and scraping the sludge off a life turned slipshod. It is about taking stock of time….Lent is the time to make new efforts to be what we say we want to be.” — Joan Chittister

Variations on the theme of rebirth and transformation — waiting for spring and learning to overcome impatience — have always fascinated me. Today I’m running an excerpt from a column that was first published on April 4, 2004, in the Daily Tribune of Royal Oak. The complete piece is reprinted in Writing Home. As the Lenten season begins, what are your challenges? Are you letting go of grudges or foolish expectations? Surrendering an old habit? Using the season to take stock of your life?

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Being Still

One of my favorite traditions at First Congregational Church of Royal Oak is the silent meditation service held the week prior to Easter. The midweek candlelit service is led by parishioners, and this year its my turn to help open it. The service is offered during Lent because it is, as T.S. Eliot wrote in his poem, Ash Wednesday, “a time of tension between dying and birth.” It is the perfect opportunity for reflection; a time to meditate on the fearsome darkness of the tomb and the pending miracle of Easter.

While a silent service is simple enough to plan, it isnt as easy to carry out. Few of us are comfortable “being still” in a sanctuary with other people sitting near us. We expect to be enlightened, educated, entertained, preached to, or otherwise distracted from the white noise in our heads. Meditation makes us fidgety. We fear what might be revealed in the pauses and blank spaces.

As Sue Monk Kidd notes in her midlife memoir, When the Heart Waits, one of the guiding principles of American culture is “All lines must keep moving.” Even when were home alone, we rush to fill the void with mindless activity or television. Kidd says we resist getting quiet because were afraid to confront our own darkness.

Yet real miracles occur during moments of being still – and waiting in the dark. Spring bulbs do their hardest labor underground before blooming. Likewise, the work of spiritual growth and healing is done in silence.

The time I woke up alone in a dark hospital room, two years ago, immediately comes to mind.

It was just past midnight, a few hours after my second hip surgery. Barely conscious, I awoke to discover my legs were strapped to a large foam wedge to keep me from moving. While I realized this was essential to my recovery, I still felt trapped and terrified.  Equally scary was the sensation of waking up alone in a strange room. (I didnt recall being wheeled in after surgery, of course.) And while most hospitals are buzzing with activity during the day and evening, the earliest hours of the morning are eerily quiet.

Breaking the silence, I shouted for help and pushed every button within reach. It was the first time Id experienced a full-blown panic attack. When my nurse arrived, she explained that my panic was probably triggered by withdrawal from the anesthesia. She promised to check back periodically.  Meanwhile, I kept a light on above my bed. Afraid to fall asleep, I kept vigil for daybreak.

By the time the sun rose, Id finally calmed down and accepted my temporary state of immobility. And in a luminous moment of grace, I suddenly knew Id been given a second chance. I knew that I would heal and walk again. It would take time, but everything would be okay. And it was. Three days later, I was released early from the hospital to recover in bed at home.

A week before that last surgery, my friend Jenny had sent me a note of encouragement, which included a quote from Patrick Overton. Heres how it begins:

“When you come to the edge of all the light you have and must take a step into the darkness of the unknown, believe that one of two things will happen to you: Either there will be something solid for you to stand on, or, you will be taught how to fly.”

Ive posted that quote where I can see it on my desk every day. Its the one I like to remember when Im stumbling in the dark or feeling stuck — or waiting impatiently for a new season to begin. — Cindy La Ferle

–Top photo: Detail from a mixed-media collage: “Birthing a Soul” by Cindy La Ferle. Please click on the image for a larger view. —

Winging it

The turning point in the process of growing up is when you discover the core of strength within you that survives all hurt.”  ~Max Lerner

When the walls around my little world seem to be caving in, my first impulse is to isolate myself while I put the bricks back in place. Luckily, I have a great support system to help bolster those walls and to remind me that I’m really not in this thing alone.

Earlier this week, my 80-year-old mother was in the hospital with a broken rib and multiple compression fractures in her spine. Meanwhile, my husband’s own mother has been leaning heavily on him to avert a family crisis of a different kind. There’s been so much going on in our realm of elder care, in fact, that the two of us are operating in what we call “divide and conquer mode.” Yet through it all, Doug always makes time to sit down and listen to my daily litany of “What’s wrong with Mom now.” He’s my main port in the storm.

While my mother wants to remain independent in her own condo, her health issues (including early stage dementia) now require a team of home-care professionals to make that possible. Thank goodness, by the time my mother was discharged from the hospital, her internist had ordered a nurse, an occupational therapist, and a physical therapist to work with her at home several times a week. When the discharge nurse informed me of this development, I fought tears of relief. At first, Mom objected to the idea of having strangers in the house to assist her. But when I explained that I’ll need help in order to help her, she reluctantly backed down.

Of course, this is only a temporary solution. As a retired RN reminded me, determining how to care for our elderly — with love and dignity — is one of the toughest challenges for my generation. Whether you’re an only child like me, or have five handy siblings willing to roll up their sleeves, you need a plan to care for your aging parents. Another friend is wrestling with similar issues for her widowed mom — and she still has teenagers at home. Her brothers live out of state, so, as she put it, she’s been functioning almost as if she were an only child.

Meanwhile, dear ones have warmed my heart and soul with supportive notes and cards and e-mails.  Shirley sent three chocolate bars with a sweet note that read, “These will help.” (And yes, they did.) My aunt volunteered to help with Mom’s meals and grocery shopping. And out of the blue, my neighbor Joanne invited me to a spiritual program at the nearby Manresa Jesuit retreat center yesterday. The program focused on the role of the Blessed Mother Mary, and circled around the theme of nurturing and “mothering” ourselves when life seems to ask too much of us. How perfect was that?

When I was preparing for my second hip replacement surgery back in 2002, my friend Jenny sent me a wonderful quote from Patrick Overton. My blog friend Marlynn, who didn’t know that I had already received the quote, sent it to me again last week. (Marlynn reminds me that there are no “coincidences.”) It worked like a charm the second time around, and I’d like to share it with you:

“When you come to the edge of all the light you have and must take a step into the darkness of the unknown, believe that one of two things will happen to you: Either there will be something solid for you to stand on, or, you will be taught how to fly.”

Thanks so much, everyone, for winging it with me. — Cindy La Ferle

— Collage in photo is from “Nature,” an altered book, by Cindy La Ferle —